Cotton Fantasy Review – Wash Separately

    Title: Cotton Fantasy
    Developer: ININ Games
    Release Date: May 20, 2022
    Reviewed On: PS4
    Publisher: Strickly Limited Games
    Genre: Shmup

Celebrating 30 years, the Cotton franchise has experienced quite an anniversary with most of their back catalog now ported to modern platforms, which even include remasters of classics. These games once had collector appeal and value, but now that these titles are so easily available, some of them weren’t quite the shooter classics they were made up to be.

Sure, some of the classic games were good fun and all, but with so many better shooters out there, they felt like a curiosity for diehard genre fans for the most part. To cap off 30 years of cute shmup shenanigans, we now have an all-new sequel, Superlative Night Dreams: Cotton Fantasy, which has already been out in Japan for a little while under its alternate title of Cotton Rock ‘n’ Roll.

It’s been good to preserve the back catalog and not make gamers have to pay ridiculous secondhand prices, but what the series needed more than anything was a brand-new title. The older games feel quite dated by today’s standards, and not all of the ports have been smooth, with even remakes like Cotton Reboot having their fair share of issues, despite having modern bells and whistles.

Cotton Fantasy feels like a brand new game, as it takes ideas and conventions from the series’ past to bring them together into a polished and enjoyable shmup experience. While most of the game sticks with traditional 2D, there are 3D segments too, which pay homage to 3D rail shooter entries of the franchise. In particular, Panorama Cotton and the lesser-known Dreamcast title Rainbow Cotton.

Cotton Fantasy 2

It’s all about gameplay variety here. Right from the main menu,  players get to choose between six different characters, including the titular Cotton herself, as she is joined by friends, rivals, and even guest characters from other games. Import gaming fans will easily recognize the likes of Umihara Kawase and her fishing shenanigans.

Now, these characters aren’t just for show with minor differences in bullet patterns, as they fundamentally differ in their gameplay styles. Where the main Cotton characters follow the usual crystal power-up conventions, the other characters change things up with their own systems and even slight nuances to their scoring sensibilities.

Cotton Fantasy 3

In short, each character offers a vastly different and compelling shooting experience, and it’s worth trying the main campaign with each of them. Most of the characters have a bit of a learning curve to them, so if you want a more traditional and straightforward shooting experience, then you’re best off starting with Ria with her continuous shot and screen-clearing bomb special.

As far as presentation goes, this is a nice and visually endearing game. Where Cotton Reboot got a little crazy with its onscreen effects and display, things are a lot cleaner and more practical in Cotton Fantasy. Enemy projectiles are easy to identify, the various enemy types rarely get mixed up in the backdrops, and overall, it’s a lot easier on the eyes– especially during busier segments. Some of the prior games in the franchise have aged poorly due to impractical design choices, but in this latest sequel, everything onscreen comes together quite smoothly.

Cotton Fantasy 4

Practicalities aside, the graphical style works well to deliver the game’s imaginative character designs. Each of the character sprites has a clean re-rendered look about them, and while the background art is a little on the simple side, the particle and lighting effects provide enough flavor.

The music shines through here, usually suiting the colorful and cute style of the game but with plenty of dueling guitars for good measure. If you’ve enjoyed games like Deathsmiles in recent years, then Cotton Fantasy carries a similar goth vibe.

The shooting action can be relentless and challenging, but this game is far from just being about bullet patterns, as there is a great deal of variety in level design between each of the thematic stages. Take the Egyptian Tombs for example; here, players don’t just have to navigate narrow pathways, but they also need to navigate some traps too. The level design ingenuity extends to the many boss battles too, where each encounter varies in its presentation and scrolling, and most of them go through different phases.

Cotton Fantasy 1

It’s honestly great to see a series that was once an expensive import hobby reach such a wide audience. Cotton Fantasy is a culmination of gameplay ideas into one generous package that is feature and content-heavy. If you’re going to buy one game from this cute-’em-up series, make it this one.

Score:
8.5/10
A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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Jahanzeb Khan

Old SEGA games will go up in value... you'll see!